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10.15.2017

"Transforming Grace", by Jerry Bridges (book review)

There are a handful of books I consider "must- reads" for Christians. There are also some books I consider must-re-reads. And there are some authors and teachers I consider true gifts of God to Christians. This book, "Transforming Grace", and its author, Jerry Bridges fit all three categories mentioned. I have read two of Bridges' other books, and was greatly helped by them. He is solid in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and is a trustworthy writer who is easy to comprehend.

I knew from the Introduction and Chapter 1 that I absolutely needed this book by this beloved saint. I realized from the early pages that I was caught in the "performance trap", where I was convinced I've been saved by God's grace, but that I now needed to - in an almost legalistic way - perform in a way to convince God to keep me.

I knew it was a wrong belief of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I hadn't convinced myself to abandon this pernicious lie. Thankfully, brother Bridges revealed not only my need to abandon the performance trap, but to recognize that every aspect of my life is utterly dependent on God's outpouring of grace on me.

I suspect I'm not alone in this realization, because this printed version comes equipped with a full-length discussion guide at the end, which is nearly a short book itself! It is apparent that many in the body of Christ are impacted by this lie that we need to perform in order to merit God's continued grace and are in need of the gospel's correction.

If you're planning to buy another book full off fluff, and ponies and rainbows, I challenge you to abandon that pursuit and pick this one instead. You will not only not regret your choice, but you will be transformed.... by God's grace alone.

Rating: Undoubtedly 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from the Tyndale Blogging Network. All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.

10.03.2017

The Goodness and Faithfulness of God


"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

Fifteen years ago, my wife and I moved into a house with 10 acres of wooded property.  The house was already equipped with an indoor wood burner for heating.  Thankfully, wood was already stacked perfectly in rows on pallets between two sets of trees.  I didn’t have to worry about cutting any wood that winter, so the thought didn’t hit me until winter was finished.

Where am I going to get enough wood to last us a lifetime at this house?  Ten acres can be enough to supply all that, can it?

I worried.  A great deal, I worried.  It kept me awake many nights, to be honest.   I questioned God’s goodness and ability to provide for me and my family.

A couple years later, a logging company asked if they could survey our property.  Of course, I declined, citing only having 10 acres to supply a lifetime of wood.  The man told me plainly, “If you cut the right trees down, 5 acres will last you a lifetime.”

I doubted him.  But he was polite, so I filed the comment into the storehouses of my memory.

As I write this 15 years later, we recently paid to have 12 very large trees cut down that posed potential threats to our house if they were ever to fall the wrong direction.  As a result, I have more wood cut into logs today than I can ever use over the next three years.  And there are still more felled trees that are yet to be “chunked”.

I have so much wood that my chainsaw is literally fatiguing.  I’ve taken it in at the beginning of spring for a tune-up…and it needs another one!  I have so much wood, that it’s just sitting there, waiting for a chainsaw and a pallet (or two or three…or 20) on which to stack it all!

All this said: God has not only been faithful to my family, but He has been over abundantly faithful to provide for my family.  Because He is good and He is gracious.  I didn’t do anything to earn His favor; God just does it because He is good.

God has blessed my children with full stomachs, warm clothes on their bodies, and good shoes on their feet as they travel off to school.

God has bless my wife with the ability, skill, and patience to be a house manager (aka: stay-at-home mom) without fear of not being able to pay the bills.

God has bless me with a wonderful employer and career that I enjoy going to each work day.

My doubts, fears, and worries often overtake my mind, as it shifts like the wind-blown desert sand. But God’s goodness and faithfulness are always steadfast.  Yet, even if God chose to withhold material and temporal blessings from me and my family, I still know that I could trust God’s hand because He is good, and He works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

9.28.2017

Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World”, by Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner (book review)

“Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World” is a tidy book written by Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology (1997); Associate Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Dr. Schreiner is a phenomenal Bible scholar who has contributed greatly to various theological studies.  His teaching and writing is biblically solid and trustworthy.

The purpose of the book is to uncover the six biblical covenants as they unfold through scripture’s timeline.  Those six covenants are: (1) The Covenant of Creation, (2) The Covenant with Noah, (3) The Covenant with Abraham, (4) The Covenant with Israel, (5) The Covenant with David, and finally, (6) The New Covenant.

Each of the six covenants and several of their dynamics were handled briefly and simply.  When I say simply, I do not necessarily mean “easy”.  While explained well, I still needed to read slowly and carefully in order to comprehend what Dr. Schreiner was saying.  Thankfully, Dr. Schreiner sums up his chapters very succinctly in each chapter’s conclusion.  While the chapters provide much greater detail, the concluding summaries serve well to provide “fly-by” overviews for quicker reference.

Rating: While I found the book rather dry, I did learn greatly from it.  It just didn’t capture my attention as a fantastic book that I could recommend as a must-read.  I didn’t have that craving to continue reading it as though it was a page-turner.  For that, I give this book just 4 stars.


Disclaimer: I received the digital version of this book free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine.

9.21.2017

"Paul the Apostle", by Robert E. Picirilli (book review)

“Paul the Apostle” took quite a long time for me to review, and it was not for lack of interest in it.  Instead, there was so much information to digest, cross-reference, and make notations of the information in my Bible margins.  Wow, what a tremendous resource this book proved to be!  There are so many positives to this book, so I’ll limit it to just a handful.

First, Picirilli provided excellent historical and cultural insight into the Apostle Paul’s life, from his pre-conversion days up to his martyrdom.  So much of what he revealed about Paul helps to shed light on the context of scripture and his ministry.

Second, Picirilli made good use of breaks to place "insert" articles within the chapter bodies.  I’ve read numerous books where side-bar comments and insert articles appear at some of the most inopportune times, causing me to lose focus on the paragraph or thought being read.  But Picirilli inserted “insert” articles at logical places so that the reader could continue reading without having to skip around and return to the storyline somewhere else.  These insert articles provide various nuances that add to the chapter’s information, but may or may not have necessarily directly applied to the particular text.  They were simply extra insights.  For instance, one good insert explained what political and military structures looked like during Paul's time, but that insert was not the primary purpose of the chapter.  The insert articles could be skipped, if the reader desired, but their information added greatly to the rest of the text.

Third, a feature I liked in this book pertained to the brief handling of each of the Pauline epistles as they likely would have been written within the chronology of the unfolding storyline of the book of Acts.  When handled, Picirilli treated Paul's epistles with a relatively quick, fly-by fashion, but with sufficient detail to explain themes and purposes of those letters.  However, each epistle’s outline and general themes were provided.  These would be phenomenal tools for digging deeper into the epistles in personal or group Bible study.

Finally, as I suggest for any book labeled and sold as “Christian”, it is always good to have a Bible open as you read this one.  First, it’s crucial that Christians always be reading books biblically and critically, guarding against erroneous teaching.  Second, have a Bible on hand is helpful for adding notes and cross-references in the margins.

While this book contained such a deep level of information about the Apostle Paul’s life, Picirilli made it easy to read and comprehend.  This book would probably be a bit too much for a new / young believer, but would be greatly helpful for the more mature.

RATING: I give this book 5 out of 5 stars for its depth, insight, and usefulness.


DISCLAIMER: I received “Paul the Apostle” free of charge from Moody Press in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine.

9.14.2017

How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets", by Peter J. Gentry (book review)

I was drawn into this book from the early pages, as the author, Peter J. Gentry, captured my attention by pointing out that I have so much more to learn about various genres of literature.  Prophetic literature contained in the Christian Bible is just one of those genres.

Gentry makes it clear that understanding the genre, the intended audience, the culture, etc. all play important roles in correctly interpreting the original author's intent.  For instance, readers today would likely draw different conclusions about the following headlines printed found in different sections of a local newspaper: "Tigers Maul Blue Jays", or "Lions Clash with Jaguars".  Thess headlines found in the Nation and World section would carry far different interpretations than the same headings being found in the sports section. One has a literal interpretation, while the other is metaphorical.

In a nutshell, Gentry's words say this about his own book's purpose: This "...book focuses...on how Hebrew literature works and how it differs from the kind of literature we are familiar with in the Western world."  Therefore, Gentry introduces the reader to various Hebraic literary methods -- such as chiastic structures, apocalyptic language, the use of oracles, and foretelling future events, etc. -- in order to simply and clearly explain to readers how to recognize these literary differences. Once we recognize these techniques, then we are more likely to better interpret the passages in which they are used.

I would definitely have benefited from reading this book several years ago, but am very thankful for the opportunity to read this today. It has opened my eyes toward a deeper understanding of God's word.  I would definitely recommend this book to any reader and student of God's word who aims to dig below surface level reading of scripture.

I definitely give this book 5 out of 5 stars!

I received the digital version of How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine.

9.04.2017

"How Does Sanctification Work?", by David Powlison (book review)

I initially looked forward to reviewing this book because I appreciate David Powlison's preaching.  I think he is a gifted communicator of God's word.  However, I have to admit that this very easy and straightforward read left me disappointed.  I expected the book to be a bit more academic and theological, but it was simple...almost too simplistic.

The intent was to explore how sanctification (progressive growth in godliness) happens over the course of a believer's life.  Instead of really digging into theology, however, Powlison, in my opinion, only skimmed the surface in shallow manner.  The book left me with more questions than answers...which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I was looking for more.  Since sanctification happens differently for most Christians, it may very well have been his writing style that did not capture my mind's attention.  I didn't have the feeling that I couldn't put it down, or that I had to keep feeding on its contents. Instead, I didn't have much desire to continue reading it (but for the sake of an honest review, I did).

It appeared Powlison assumed all of his readers would be believers because he discussed sanctification long before explaining the gospel.  Just as salvation precedes sanctification, I think discussing the gospel and its implications prior to addressing sanctification would have been a wiser approach.  A sinner cannot be sanctified apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, but must be made right with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and the sacrifice he made on sinners' place.  Only after turning from sin and to God does the process of progressive sanctification begin.  I think reversing the order of these two crucial topics would have been better.

Four of the eleven chapters were "stories": the author's (2 chapters), Charles', and Charlotte's.  I can appreciate the value of adding real-world scenarios to the book, but it didn't do anything for me, really. I wasn't impacted with any "a-ha's" or moments of mental clarity as a result of reading the "stories".  Quite frankly, they seemed like filler space stories for an already very short book. 

RATING: I think this book could have used a bit more work and thought before going to press.  I would have been disappointed if I had paid money for it.  For that, I give it just 2 1/2 stars.

DISCLAIMER: I received this digital version of this book free of charge from Crossway books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine.

8.22.2017

"God Is", by Mark Jones (book review)


Have you lost sight of the glory, majesty, and wonder of who God is?  Of who Jesus is?  While we cannot fully know God, we can know Him truly in how He has chosen to reveal Himself in His Word.  Sadly, however, much of our society has grown self-reliant, not needing God.  Even preaching abounds today that offers a hurting, broken world a feeble, small god.  For these reasons, “God Is”, by Mark Jones, senior pastor at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (British Columbia), is a seriously important and needed book on many levels. 

The book is comprised of 26 chapters, each dealing relatively briefly with a singular attribute of God.  I say “relatively briefly” because each chapter could indeed be lengthier, but for the purpose of readability at a non-academic level, the chapters are digestible in as little as 10-15 minutes.  Each chapter is further broken down into three sub-sections: (1) Doctrine; (2) How Christ manifests or displays the particular attribute; and (3) Application for believers.

Some Practical Uses  (certainly not an exhaustive list):

First, “God Is” has the God-Man Christ Jesus at its center.  Many “best-sellers” fall flat because they never truly address the Lordship of Christ or our need for Him.  Many simply treat Him as a genie in a bottle, here to make your life more comfortable.  This book will energize and renew your confidence in who Jesus Christ is.

Second, “God Is” could be used to direct one’s personal Bible study.  Anyone who chooses to dig deeper into the attributes of God would be helped by using this book.

Third, “God Is” could just as easily be used to direct a small group Bible study.  The chapters are short enough and readable for the average person to be helpful.  While there are numerous theological words throughout, Jones handles them very simply.  A small group could easily handle reading, studying, discussing, and praying through one attribute (chapter) per week.

Fourth, “God Is” is a WONDERFUL tool to direct one’s personal prayer life.  As I read each chapter, I found myself praying in thankfulness that God has revealed Himself to be as described in the particular attribute.  Praying with these attributes in the forefront of my mind as deepened my prayers.

Finally, “God Is” is well researched, providing biblical and historical support for the views explained.  Jones leaned upon several authors (John Owen, Herman Bavinck, and Stephen Charnock, to name a few), which inspired me to want to read those authors’ works as well.

In our society, even those within the church have a difficult time when someone may correct their theology, even when done correctly and gently.  Many say, “Well, who are you to say who God is?  We can’t really know Him anyway.  Who says I’m wrong?”  I appreciate how Jones summed up such a reproach: “What do we really say when we speak of God?  It is a wonder that we can say anything about Him, and yet he commands us to do so and to do it truly and well” (Loc. 2951)In other words, we may not know God fully, but we must know Him truly as He has chosen to reveal Himself.  After all, “a poor doctrine of God leads to a poor understanding of Christ, and vice versa” (Loc. 2969).

Rating: I give “God Is” 5 out of 5 stars.


Disclaimer: I received the Kindle format of this book free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine.